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Coming out of stasis?

31 December, 2012

It’s the last day of 2012. 2012 has not been the best year of my life. I was about to say I’d been treading water, just barely, but that’s not the right metaphor. It’s been more like watching my life go by, and not being able to really grasp it for more than a few moments here and there. It was not the watching of real observation, but of catching glimpses of reality here and there. Even when I felt I was connected to the rest of the world, or to myself, I felt out of sync. In many ways, it was like that feeling people often get when they’ve had just a bit too much to drink at a conference or party, and are struggling very hard to keep up with the conversation and not behave as if they are drunk. There are many reasons for this, most of which were connected to dealing with a Thing at work that should have been resolved within weeks, but instead has dragged on for over three years, and which pushed me into therapy. The problem with therapy, I’ve discovered, is that in dealing with current garbage, you often find that the garbage is linked to things that were locked away, occasionally reaching a hand out through the bars of their cells, but generally segregated from daily life. Much of 2012 was spent opening the cell doors for very short times, and looking at the creatures within. I think the feeling of disconnection may be directly related to keeping the creatures at bay while I examined them; in fact, that keeping them at bay may explain why my therapist has teared up more than I have. But defense mechanisms can be exhausting. Mine seem to be the sort that simply urge me into auto-pilot — I’m just lucky that I’m able to do a fair job on some things, like teaching, on auto-pilot. Other things, I’ve not been able to keep up with: friends (I think I managed to have people over to my house once or twice all year, where normally I have people over for at least dinner or drinks a couple times a month); family; reading; exercise; paperwork (I have just realized I never filed my state tax forms last year — fortunately, the state owes me a refund, so I think there will be no penalty); work I owe to professional organizations and colleagues… And then, there were various health problems. And what seems also to have been mid-life crisis. Finally, my year has ended with one of those things that has just made me say, “Fuck this. I am scared to death, but I’m not willing to have another year like this if I can help it.” Cancer will do that.

Yep. That’s been (as those of you who know me IRL know) the last three weeks of my life. Cancer diagnosis (malignant melanoma), guidelines indicated checking for spread to the lymph system, surgery, biopsies…

No sign of spread. Surgical scars now healing well. So I’m fine! Except that I’m not, because there’s always a watching and waiting period, about five years, to make sure it doesn’t come back, and that it doesn’t start up in another place.

So now I’m definitely at an age where I most probably past the halfway point of my allotted years. And, at least at the present moment, I am not willing to go through another year like this. I tend to think on an academic calendar, so New Year’s resolutions always seem odd to me; besides, I don’t like resolutions, because I feel guilty when I don’t accomplish them. So I have only one overarching goal for 2013: to reach the end of the year having felt that I’ve achieved more control over my own life, and to enjoy more the good things I’ve added in the past year, but haven’t really been able to build on.

There were, as it happens, good things.

I acquired a canine companion. She is a foster, but having to get up and take her out first thing and last thing, and times in between, is beginning to help with structure that I desperately needed.

I listened to my voice teacher and auditioned for a choral group. They took me. We performed some very hard Baroque music this year, and I managed to do fairly well at singing the most difficult part. But I was not ever as practiced or good as I wanted to be, nor as good as I could have been. I really like the people in the chorale, and want to have their respect and in some cases, their friendship.

I taught a couple of new courses that have the potential to be much better courses. Despite the fact that I was shite in many ways, the final work and the evaluations indicated that, despite my weaknesses (slow feedback, lack of organization), the students felt challenged and enjoyed the classes.

I finished an essay which is due to come out in an edited volume any day now. I have ideas for others.

I think I became closer friends with some of my readers and colleagues. I can honestly say that my friendships with some of you all, and a couple of colleagues at SLAC, have made such a huge difference in my life, and have done so much to counteract the drain on my self-confidence mentioned above.

I was awarded a sabbatical for part of the upcoming academic year (sadly after the deadline for many fellowships…)

So, for 2013, I want to feel more like a participant, and less like an observer. I don’t know how that will happen, but I suspect it might involve exchanging the feeling that I must always be doing things for a more deliberate slowing down and focus on doing this thing, now, and then moving to the next. We’ll see. Any suggestions are of course welcome.

In the meantime, I wish you all a very happy and healthy new year.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. 31 December, 2012 6:18 pm

    My advice would be superfluous but I am so happy to hear about the sabbatical. Best of luck with it. May it be satisfying!

    • 31 December, 2012 8:13 pm

      Your advice is never superfluous, Steve! I swear, if I can’t get funding, I hope to postpone my sabbatical till I can. If I can get decent funding, I swear I will try to take the year 🙂

  2. 31 December, 2012 10:51 pm

    to reach the end of the year having felt that I’ve achieved more control over my own life, and to enjoy more the good things I’ve added in the past year, but haven’t really been able to build on.

    This sounds like an excellent New Year’s resolution, and I very much hope that it happens for you. Wishing you many blessings in 2013.

  3. sophylou permalink
    1 January, 2013 2:00 am

    To be honest, this is the kind of end-of-year “resolution” post I needed to read. I enjoy your blog and am so sorry to hear about the cancer (! glad to hear no spread), but having been through major surgery this year (no cancer, thankfully — one of my mother’s friends had the same surgery at the same time and they did find cancer, so I know I’m lucky) I know how health stuff can make everything else look… different. And I also am coming to believe in the power of “fuck this, life is short, things have to change and I need to pay better attention/participate.” Best of luck to you in the new year!

  4. 1 January, 2013 1:13 pm

    Very sorry to hear about the melanoma, but relieved to hear it hasn’t spread. There are some periods of life where things keep on getting thrown at you and just surviving is all that is possible (I had a period like that around the time my parents died). Poor physical health and sorting out emotional/mental health issues do take up a vast amount of energy. But it sounds like you have also done things which have brought pleasure to you and helped others (canine and human), and no year like that is wasted. Best wishes for the year ahead and may fewer hobgoblins attack you in 2013.

  5. 1 January, 2013 4:02 pm

    ooof! what a year! Many good wishes for a much better 2013.

  6. Susan permalink
    2 January, 2013 3:06 am

    Health is important. I hope the dog and the singing help give life structure and some joy. And the sabbatical is awesome!

  7. 3 January, 2013 5:20 am

    My heart goes out to you. I went through some similar things during my third year of teaching (job BS, mental health issues) two years ago. I can’t imagine having to have a major health scare on top of that. I’m happy to hear that you are cancer-free. Also, glad to see that you were able to get a sabbatical and do some things that make you happy. I took two years of to get my groove back, so to speak. I find a lot of joy in having dogs. My babies are always there for a cuddle, wagging tail, or a sloppy kiss, and they never give unwanted advice! 🙂 I just found your blog and will start following. No pressure on posting though!! In fact, I write short, fun Medieval articles. I’m no Medievalist, but if you ever feel like reading some of my articles, I posted the links below. Also, no pressure. Hang in there and here’s to a happier 2013.


  1. Resolutions: For a New Year « True Stories Backward

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